In 1970, Dr. Marcus Foster was hired as the first Black superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. Widely recognized as one of the greatest educators of his generation, he was brought here to help rescue a deeply troubled system. Within three years of his arrival, exactly 50 years ago this month, Foster was assassinated by a shady militant group that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. Even though many of the details of Foster’s death are known, it remains one of the most mysterious murders of a notoriously turbulent era.
Although the SLA supposedly emerged from Berkeley’s revolutionary underground, there are some startling connections that point to a far more complicated story. On the anniversary of this tragic killing, this episode celebrates the legacy of Foster’s impact on Oakland school and also delves into the murky origins of the group responsible for this death.
The first segment features Patanisha Williams, the curator “The Audacity to Believe,” an exhibit about Dr. Marcus Foster currently on display at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. The second half of the show includes bestselling author and investigative journalist David Talbot, who wrote about the SLA in his book “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love.” Listen now via Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify, or wherever you get podcasts. Music for this episode was generously provided by Jason Stinnett and Justin Lee.
[Title image: Marcus Foster 1973 school visit photo courtesy Oakland Public Library, Oakland History Center. The exhibit “Dr. Marcus Foster: Making Schools Work” will be on display at OHC through Dec 30, 2023.]
Note: As I was finalizing production on this episode, KQED Arts published an article about alleged financial mismanagement by the Marcus Foster Education Institute. You can read about the allegations here. -Liam
This episode is supported by UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. I highly recommend checking out their new podcast, “Revolutionary Care: An Oakland Story,” a series about the history of treating sickle cell anemia: www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/sickle-cell
East Bay Yesterday can’t survive without your donations. Please make a pledge to keep this show alive: www.patreon.com/eastbayyesterday. You can also support East Bay Yesterday by purchasing the official t-shirt or hat from Oaklandish.